Beneath the gleaming skyscrapers and among the vast wealth growing in Shanghai, there is a population that is struggling in this vibrant cosmopolitan city – the migrant worker. Coming from all over China, rural workers migrate to grandiose cities in hopes of a better life for themselves and their families.
Organizations such as Stepping Stones have decided to assist this needy urban dwelling population. According to the National Bureau of Statistics there were 9.6 million migrants in Shanghai by the start of 2013. This number makes up over 40 percent of the city’s total population, including just under half a million school-age children. Stepping Stones has made it their mission to help educate these disadvantaged migrant children in Shanghai.
Corinne Richeux Hua started the program back in 2006 after working with another charity and researching the needs of migrant schools. At several schools she visited they all asked her if she could provide English teachers as they were desperately in need for qualified fluent teachers. After the multiple requests, she decided to start a program entirely dedicated to this task. With many volunteers eager to help her begin, Stepping Stones was created and is now celebrating their 10-year anniversary this May.
Rural children are much more disadvantaged than urban children when it comes to English learning as parents cannot afford tutors and most of the schools do not have teachers who are fluent in the language. Often the Chinese teachers have to double up to teach English, without the ability to speak English very well. Migrants are also vulnerable because of the instability in the community where many live in temporary housing, which can be in very poor condition. They also may not have access to medical services because they are not living in their hometowns.
Although the demographic of volunteers has shifted over the years, Stepping Stones has always had volunteers available. Corinne explains, “There is a lot of willingness to volunteer these days. That’s one of the things I’ve really enjoyed about this job, that I’ve come across so many people who want to give back from all walks of life –—Chinese, foreign, older, younger, students, and professionals. There are really no boundaries, and Stepping Stones has been a melting pot in a way.”
Working with more than 300 volunteers, Stepping Stones provides oral English classes with up to 50 children as well as three-on-one tutoring sessions to migrant schools throughout Shanghai and its suburbs at 30 locations, including Minhang, Pudong and Qingpu. They also send out volunteers to rural China to teach English for a few days to even a few weeks at a time. They are also planning their next venture, which is to provide video link classes to rural schools, and they intend to launch the program this year.
The schools Stepping Stones work with are catered specifically to migrant students whose parents have a hukou for Shanghai. For bright students who want to move onto university, the schools are very well aware that it will be the English that lets them down. With English being one of the three core subjects in the Chinese curriculum, one can easily see where the problem lies in the rural and migrant schools, especially for those students who want to pass the national exam to get into a reputable university.
Thus far, there are no migrant schools in Shanghai for middle and high school students, so they mostly need to return to their local hometown to receive this education. In rural areas most schools don’t begin teaching English until the third grade or later, depending on resources. The idea is to help primary school students get a head start here in Shanghai where they can learn English from the first grade. This is also why Stepping Stones has started short-term programs to rural schools.
Want to get involved? Stepping Stones is always looking for more volunteers to teach English at multiple locations around Shanghai. Their strongest need is for Monday-Friday daytime volunteers, as well as teachers for short-term rural trips.
To donate or find volunteer opportunities visit the Stepping Stones official website here.